Taking a scenic drive on the Million Dollar Highway through the San Juan National Forest is a popular thing to do during the summer season. The cool fresh mountain air spells relief from the extreme summertime heat and the panoramic views are spectacular to see. Starting from Durango, the trip on Highway 550 north to the historic town of Silverton is only 50 miles, so the distance is perfect for a round trip scenic drive or a weekend overnight venture. There are many high elevation mountain pass overlooks along this road and there are a few roadside attractions to discover as well.
One of the most popular roadside attractions along the Million Dollar Highway is Pinkerton Hot Springs, which is just a little more than 10 miles north of Durango. Pinkerton Hot Springs is a strange roadside oddity that looks so out of place, that it is easy to think that it belongs on another planet! In fact, because there are some cheesy old hot springs resort signs near the town of Hermosa Springs, it is all to easy for a driver to breeze right on by the small Pinkerton Hot Springs marker without a second thought. For most people that tour the Million Dollar Highway, this roadside oddity is not usually noticed till somebody in the car does a double take glance at the colorful hot springs cone while passing by. After whipping a u-turn, visitors then pull into the parking area to take a closer look. As can be imagined, awestruck tourists hitting the breaks to flip the car around does lead to some dicy traffic situations, so it is best to be aware of this when driving on this section of the road.
All it takes is one glance at the colorful limestone hot spring percolator mound to see why so many drivers get a kink in the neck when passing by. The first thoughts that cross the mind of the uninitiated often go something like, “What is that weird thing? … It looks like it is from outer space!” Odd looking definitely is the word, especially since this bright colorful percolator cone sits in lush green forest surroundings. This type of odd looking hot spring is usually only associated with regions that have volcanic activity. In fact, I have only seen one other hot spring percolator mound like the Pinkerton Hot Springs and that was in Yellowstone National Park.
The San Juan Mountains are not volcanically active, so explaining how the Pinkerton Hot Springs came to be is not easy to do. The mountain spring at the Pinkerton site must be so deep in the earth crust that extreme pressure brings the water to the boiling point. Another explanation is a magma plume exists, which would do the same thing.
It is the acidic hot spring water that dissolves the limestone and carries the minerals to the surface. Mineralized calcification eventually builds up like a mound and hardens over a long period of time. The minerals carried up from deep underground are what gives the Pinkerton Hot Spring percolator mound a wide array of colors. The Pinkerton Hot Springs literally looks like it was hand painted by an artist, but this signature masterpiece was indeed crafted by Mother Nature herself!
When doing a scenic drive on the Million Dollar Highway, it is well worth taking the time to experience Pinkerton Hot Springs. Knowing that this roadside oddity is there will prevent having to do a berserk split second u-turn on this dangerous stretch of road! The parking is ample in the nearby dirt lot and this attraction is usually only crowded on weekends. Pinkerton Hot Springs is very photogenic, so be sure to bring a good camera along for the ride. Photos of Pinkerton Hot Springs will certainly be a sure fire conversation starter when you get back home!
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